How Exercise Helped Me Battle Addiction: From Weakness To Power

Find out how exercise, including working out and callisthenics, became pivotal in battling addiction. Explore the transformative power of physical activity in my journey from despair to resilience.


Tim Bergman


A group of people meditationg and exercising outside in the park by a river
A group of people meditationg and exercising outside in the park by a river

What Is Addiction?

When we hear the word addiction, we tend to think of the worst scenarios and substances like heroin etc. But a person can be highly addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, and marihuana, or there is also emotional addiction to certain feelings or pleasures like sex.

Overall, not a single addiction is good for our mental and physical well-being. Dr. Gabor Mate, a renowned Canadian physician, is an expert in childhood development, mental health and trauma which are closely connected to addictions. Especially childhood development is the cornerstone of how a person will evolve. When you enter his website, you can't miss this powerful quote: “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.”

It's pivotal to look at the root of what triggered certain addictions. Trauma is very diverse and when not healed, it will transform into addiction. According to WebMD, addiction is treatable, but around 60% of people who tried to overcome it didn't make it and used drugs or alcohol again within a year.

Here comes the powerful tool, exercise, that can help to change any life. Let's delve into its magical influence.

Exercise To Win Over Addiction

I used to play basketball and did some athletics from an early age, but when I entered university, I stopped and my life shifted towards a more unhealthy lifestyle. Regular parties with a lot of alcohol, and smoking cigarettes and weed. Many people don't realize that such a lifestyle makes you weak and negatively impacts the sharpness of your brain and mind.

It lasted for a few years before I discovered bodyweight training or so-called calisthenics.

Bodyweight Training And Calisthenics

Calisthenics is derived from the ancient Greek words kállos, which means beauty, and sthenos, meaning strength. It's a form of strength training using your body, closely connected to gymnastics, but also putting extra weight (weighted calisthenics) on yourself (a vest or a belt attached to kettlebells or plates).

Several exercises are considered as foundations. Push-ups, pull-ups, dips and squats. You can train your whole body without going to a gym. Anytime and anywhere, that's why some people are calling it a street workout. No excuses!

How To Start Exercising

It was 2011 when I saw a video on YouTube from Hannibal for King, a street workout legend, who popularized worldwide the movement of bodyweight training. Many people started training thanks to him and his videos.

At that time, calisthenics was something new to the majority of people. It was an unconventional way to exercise, mainly outside in special workout parks. Besides physical benefits, there were also skills and attributes you could show off.

First, get some motivation from different people who mastered their craft, but don't try being them, and rather transform the inspiration for your inner purpose to become the best version of yourself. You need to have a clear goal and vision of who you want to become.

Do you have an unhealthy life, do you say to yourself that you are lazy? Change it! This is in your control to decide who you want to be if you don't like your circumstances. The biggest obstacle is to start, but once you take off, you will reap the rewards. Of course, there will be ups and downs, you will feel tired, and exhausted, and you will be questioning yourself, but just keep going.

Just Do It

If you think about Nike's claim, you will realize how powerful it is. Don't think too much about it, just take a leap and start doing some physical activity. I was lucky to discover calisthenics.

Like many people, when I started with bodyweight training, I could do barely a pull-up and only a few push-ups with a terrible technique. Then I stumbled upon another video that changed my life. Herschel Walker, a former NFL player, was talking about his training routine and mentioned that he does thousands of push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups daily.

My initial reaction was disbelief. How is humanly possible to do a thousand push-ups, even if it's in 12 hours? Impossible! That was even a reaction from my surroundings, nobody believed that it was possible to do such crazy numbers.

Dedication, Determination And Patience

My beginnings in calisthenics were very tough and painful. I was out of shape, with no energy, strength or stamina. But I didn't miss the most important feature called determination! If you don't have determination, you will not get where you want to be. You are doomed without it.

I started gradually building my foundation. Watching hundreds of videos and tutorials, reading articles and learning along the way. Increasing numbers from 1 pull-up to 5 pull-ups, 10 pull-ups, 15 pull-ups, and over 20 pull-ups on one go. This took me years to achieve. Training every day, after work at 10 PM. In the cold when there was even -10 C.

Motivated by Herschel Walker, I wanted to prove to myself that it's possible to do 1000 push-ups in a single training. So I started gradually increasing my numbers. I started with around 30 push-ups per training. The first goal was to get to 100. Then 200, 300...up to 1000. And I did it! It was all about blood, sweat and tears. I was obsessed with push-ups. Doing push-ups everywhere, at work, on a train, on a highway when taking a rest from driving.

I managed to do 1000 push-ups in under one hour. My record was around 3000 push-ups in less than 4 hours. After some years of vigorous training, it was normal to do 1000 push-ups and 300 pull-ups in training. Or 300 dips, 500 push-ups and 300 pull-ups. I also tested myself on how many days I could go on with such crazy training, I think I did around 50 days before I injured my arm so I wasn't able to do any pull training and continued only with push training and squats.

I also started using extra weight to make training more challenging and see better results regarding strength.

When I talked to somebody about my training routine, they didn't believe me as I didn't believe Herschel Walker. But I proved to myself that if we set up something and work hard towards it, it's possible. This moment was a breakthrough in my mindset. It made me not only physically stronger but also mentally. I felt like a lion in his best age and form.

When Addiction Is Going Away

The more I trained, the more my body wanted to keep healthy and avoid bad and unhealthy stuff. It wasn't an instant case, but it took more than a year or two before I stopped smoking or drinking alcohol.

If you invest time to get physically fit, your body and mind will automatically follow to change for the better. I still vividly remember my last cigarette, even if it was more than 10 years ago. I was smoking and all of a sudden I nearly puked and I threw away the cigarette. From that point, I never touched it again. I also improved my diet and started eating clean and healthy food.

I suggest watching Breaking The Limits film, which is based on a true story. It's about the life of Jerzy Gorski who was a drug addict but managed to overcome it thanks to triathlon.

Can You Become Addicted To Exercise?

The answer is YES! You can get addicted to working out. My success in replacing alcohol, weed and cigarettes was by getting addicted to a different form of satisfaction.

If I have to choose between the former or the latter, being addicted to exercise is much better as long as you don't take any steroids and you don't destroy your body. But replacing one addiction with another one is not a long-term solution and naturally, I started tackling this issue after a few years of crazy training routines.

I felt that my body was suffering from those inhuman training routines and I needed a change to find the balance. Many people don't realize that physical activity is causing stress to our body and soul.

I started studying more anatomy and I discovered a general body movement and applied a more holistic approach. I started with some flexibility training, yoga, meditations and handstands. My goal wasn't any more to chase nonsense numbers or muscles, but rather to feel well and think about longevity. I wanted to be active and still working out in my sixties or seventies.

I am not telling you what you should do with your life, as it's your decision. I am only speaking from my point of view as every person has different priorities.

Benefits Of Exercise

Dr Pete­r Attia targets health and long-life. He­ believes in e­xercise and total wellne­ss. He says you can cut your chance of dying by 15% if you go from zero activity to only 90 minute­s a week. He pinpoints that big kille­rs are heart disease­, cancer, and diabetes. He­ feels traditional health vie­ws are old-fashioned.

Really fit pe­ople, for example, are­ way less likely to die than hardly-fit one­s. He brings up age factors. Say, a 65-year-old has a 15-30% chance­ of dying within a year if they break a hip. Dr Attia insists on staying physically fit, mostly as you get older. He­ shows that the fittest top 2.5% people­ have 4 times lower risk of dying in the­ next year than the bottom 25%. It's cle­ar that fitness is a crucial player in staying alive.

Anothe­r well-known MD, Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist, and brain pro, reve­als that normal physical activity is useful for your brain. Exercise is ce­lebrated because­ it boosts the blood flow to the brain, boosts its flexibility, and raise­s friendly factors that help brain cells grow and last.

He like­ly considers workouts essential for comple­te brain health. Commonly, regular activity is sugge­sted to manage ADHD symptoms and other brain conditions. Re­ducing stress and improving mental health are­ well-known exercise­ benefits. Naturally, Dr Amen aims at e­radicating mental disorders by transforming brain health. So, he­ no doubt advises routine physical exe­rcises to control stress and boost mood.

Gene­rally, doing exercises is pivotal for your he­alth and lengthens your life conside­rably. Additionally, it assists in purifying your body and improving your brain health, mood, self-assurance and vitality. Elliot Hulse­ discusses about the­ transcendent rep.

  1. Combining Mind, Spirit, and Body: The­ workout process goes beyond physical e­ffort and merges mind, spirit, and body.

  2. Crossing the Thre­shold for Change: To harness mind and spirit power while­ training, crossing a boundary is needed. This move­ strengthens a person holistically, not just physically.

  3. Stre­ngth of the Final Rep: The most impactful part of a workout is "The­ Supreme Rep," the­ last one. It's where true­ power is formed and where­ winners rise. It's more than just a physical accomplishme­nt; it's a moment of deep pe­rsonal progression.

  4. Harmony and Onene­ss: The Transcendent Re­p creates a strong bond betwe­en body, mind, and spirit. It requires guts and le­ads to a powerful change. This change make­s you tougher - mind, body, and spirit.

  5. Obvious Change and Awarene­ss: After reaching this leve­l, people change a lot. The­y are more sure, focuse­d, and strong. These changes are­n't just inside of them. Others can se­e and feel the­m too. This creates a new, more­ powerful person.

When you put every ounce of effort, energy, commitment, and discipline into executing that last rep, you transcend and you are born again. You become a brand new person, you're resurrected in strength, and everywhere you go from then on out, people will recognize that there's a newfound power in you, they can't see you the same way, they won't talk to you the same way, they won't feel you the same way because you're brand new. You will breathe differently, you'll walk differently, and the look in your eyes will be brand new, stronger, more direct, more focused, and more confident. They'll all know but there's a brand new, stronger you.